Denver Direct: Judge rules against park advocates, refuses to stop land deal (Hentzell)

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Judge rules against park advocates, refuses to stop land deal (Hentzell)

Hentzell Park Natural Area – Photo by Ray Ehrenstein 
by Dave Felice
In a case he describes as “quite difficult and bothersome in many ways,” Denver District Judge Herbert Stein turns down a request for temporary injunction which would block the transfer of natural area land in southeast Denver to the school district.

Through their attorney John Case, the plaintiffs, Friends of Denver Parks, argue that the land has been used as a park since the city acquired the property in 1937.  As a park, the land would have been designated in the 1955 revision of the City Charter, Section 2.4.5, making disposition of the property subject a vote of the people.
“I recognize there is an emotional aspect and a political aspect to this case, but I have to focus on the legal aspect,” said Judge Stern at the conclusion of an hour-long court session.  “I’m going to deny the request for a preliminary injunction.  I cannot in good conscience say there is a likelihood of success on the merits of the case.”
Indicating that he had carefully considered the arguments, Stern continued:  “It is extremely bothersome that land represented as parkland can be pulled from the public and turned into other use.  Absolutely something needs to be done with other (city-owned) properties which fall into the same category (as undesignated parks).”
Friends of Denver Parks indicated they would continue to pursue all legal remedies.  Case immediately stated:  “I would like to set a trial date, with a jury.”  Stern said he would accept a motion for a trial, with or without a jury, and get the matter on the calendar as soon as possible.  Responding to a request for more time to gather petition signatures to get the issue on the November ballot, Stern said he would rule by midday Monday.
The case hinges on 11 acres of Hentzell Park Natural Area.  The plaintiffs contend this land is part of property which the city named Hampden Heights North Park.  Before issuing his ruling, Judge Stern repeatedly asked Case to define what constituted a “park.”  Assistant City Attorney David Broadwell said the land had been used for a variety of purposes.  Attorneys for Denver Public Schools said nothing.
Mayor Michael B. Hancock has pitted community interests against one another in the complicated scheme to trade the natural area to the school district as a building site.  In exchange, Hancock would get an aged building at 1330 Fox Street which the city would turn over to a non-profit agency to operate a center for victims of domestic abuse.